For Students and Recent Graduates
Students and recent graduates face different challenges when embarking on a job search than do those who have been working for a while. While seasoned job seekers may be faced with some of the same issues, students and recent graduates are dealing with them for the first time.
Choosing a Career
Whether you are choosing a career for the first time or the fourth time, you should go through the steps outlined in the earlier part of this chapter. It can be helpful to focus on what you've been good at and what you've enjoyed doing in the past. Which classes were your favorites? In which ones did you find least cause for complaint? If biology rang your bell, how about working in a hospital lab? Maybe your natural proclivity for English could come in handy as an editor at a publishing company or as a copywriter at an ad agency. You may even decide you loved a particular subject so much that you actually want to be a teacher and pass that love on to others. Keep in mind that some occupations may require that you continue your education and training.
Employers like job candidates who have real interests and a clear direction. They know that if you're interested in a particular industry, company, or job, you're more likely to enjoy the position, perform well, and stay with the company. Employers don't like to hear that you are not at all discriminating and will take whatever job they have available. Stay focused on a particular job function.
What Employers Are Really Looking For
You may be surprised to learn that employers generally are not looking for candidates with the best grade point averages, who were involved in the most clubs, or scored the highest in sports. They want to find employees who are the best fit for the job. Why? Those candidates will stay the longest.
The average college graduate stays with her first employer for only nine months. Employers have concluded that most new young hires are unrealistic about what entry-level jobs entail and will soon leave in search of something “better.” They're right.
This costs companies a lot of money, because training new hires is expensive. It's not surprising, then, that most companies — especially those with training programs — will be interested in whether you're likely to remain in that position.
How can you show a company you won't move on too soon? You must display a true interest in the industry, in the job function itself, and particularly in that employer. Intelligently discussing the company, current trends in the industry, and showing that you are genuinely interested in the job are two great ways to communicate to an interviewer that you're a low-risk hire.
You can also demonstrate commitment by stressing only those extracurricular activities that you pursued for an extended period of time. You should also choose to highlight those activities from which you developed the most desirable skills. For example, if you want to demonstrate your leadership skills, talk about the organization in which you sat on the board. This shows that you didn't just participate in many different activities, jumping from one to the next. You picked ones in which you could play an active role. If the activity you highlight is one which you spent a lot of time and energy doing and something you made progress in over the years, it will carry more weight than many activities you were only nominally involved in.
Show the employer you are committed to the firm by making it clear that you know what you want. You should show that you have a realistic feeling for what the job entails, that you understand what the pluses and minuses are in the position you're considering, and that you've decided, after making a realistic assessment of the job, that it's something you'd enjoy doing for a substantial period.
Maturity is another factor that employers weigh heavily. Some students or recent graduates, in one-on-one situations with older adults, may not come across as being mature and confident enough for the professional world. Unfortunately, such judgments are often made based on assumptions, but they are sometimes based on an impression made during a job interview. It is up to you to convince the employer otherwise. When on a job interview, make sure you project yourself as a mature candidate who is ready to enter the business community. Practice a firm handshake and learn how to make good eye contact. You can learn more about how to conduct yourself on a job interview in Chapter 13.
It's always important for a job seeker to display a professional demeanor, but this is critical for students and recent graduates lacking work experience. Just as in college you were in the role of student, in this next phase of your life you will be in the role of employee. You must adhere to the standards of communication, appearance, and conduct expected in the workplace. Professionalism is something you need to prove to employers the very first time you make contact with them.
One way you can communicate your professionalism is by presenting a resume and cover letter that follow an acceptable format, which will be discussed in Chapter 4. Your resume should be printed on paper that is a neutral color and is free of any design. It should be well organized. Your cover letter needs to be well written. It is imperative that both your resume and cover letter be free of grammatical and spelling errors.
Make sure your career plans are realistic. You have to start somewhere. Accept that most entry-level positions are usually lower paying and less than glamorous. It will probably take you a number of years to achieve your career goals and advance to your ideal job. Consider an entry-level job the first step toward attaining your long-term goals.
You also need to be careful when choosing an e-mail address. Your email address may be the first thing an employer learns about you when you initially contact a company. The e-mail address you use for personal e-mail can invoke any sort of image you want it to — fun, silly, sexy, or whatever you would like people to think of you. The one you use for work-related e-mail, however, should project only one bit of information — that you are a professional adult who is serious about your work. Your name, either first and last name or some combination that uses your initials, is your best choice; for example,
Your first “in person” contact with a potential employer will likely be at a job interview. Remember that appearance does matter. The way you look will either convey that you are a professional, or it will convey that you are still a student. You want to project a professional image. You can never go wrong wearing a business suit to a job interview. Be on time for the job interview. Not only is it rude to be late, punctuality shows you are a responsible person. Since you can't account for extra traffic on a particular day, make sure you give yourself more than enough time to get to the interview.
Employers want articulate workers. Speak clearly and use a voice and tone that projects confidence — even if you don't feel very confident yet. Use professional lingo that demonstrates your knowledge of the field. Avoid the slang that is fine to use with your friends. Do not, under any circumstances, use obscenities.
Show that you are someone geared toward growth and open to change. No employer wants to spend time and money training someone for a short-term position. You must assure the employer that you are going to stick around once your training is complete.